The holiday mishap in which Keith Richards fell out of a coconut tree in Fiji has turned out to be more serious than previously thought, with the Rolling Stones guitarist undergoing surgery to relieve a blood clot on his brain.
A spokesman for the band said the operation at a hospital in New Zealand on Sunday was a success, and that Richards was already up and about and talking to his family. Richards, 62, is planning to join the rest of the band for the European leg of their world tour, although the opening concert in Barcelona has been postponed from 27 May to a date in June to be announced. They are being supported by Kaiser Chiefs, Kasabian, the Charlatans and Guns N' Roses.
Initial reports suggested that Richards suffered only mild concussion when he fell 16ft while gathering coconuts a fortnight ago. But after being flown to New Zealand, tests at Ascot Hospital in Auckland revealed he had a subdural haematoma, or blood clot on the brain. Surgery generally involves drilling a hole through the skull to drain the clot.
It was not clear yesterday whether Richards was still in hospital or had already been discharged. The band's spokesman said he would need "a few weeks' recuperation".
He added: "Keith was under observation in Auckland after a fall in Fiji and was feeling well since being examined by doctors last week. But after complaining of headaches, doctors thought it prudent to move ahead with a small operation to relieve the pressure. The operation was a complete success, with Keith up and chatting with his family today."
The accident happened while Richards was on holiday following the Asia-Pacific leg of the Stones' Bigger Bang tour, which took them to Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand. He reportedly lost his grip while climbing the tree with his fellow band member Ronnie Wood at the exclusive Wakaya Club resort.
His wife, Patti Hansen, flew to Auckland and has been by his side since. According to The Sun, she smuggled miniature bottles of vodka into hospital for him. The paper had previously reported that Richards gave up drinking and smoking after the fall.
Richards, along with Mick Jagger, the lead singer, has been the backbone of the Rolling Stones since the Sixties. His history of drug abuse and arrests in his younger years has given him the reputation of rock'n'roll's ultimate survivor. He likes to greet concert audiences by quipping: "Good to be here, good to be anywhere."
The guitarist has suffered other freak accidents, some in quite sedate circumstances. In 1998, he broke three ribs and punctured a lung after falling off a ladder while reaching for a book in his library. Two years later, he punctured a finger on a guitar string and it became infected.
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By Maxine Frith
* Relatively few people require surgery after a head injury but Keith Richards' age - and his hellraising past - mean he had an increased risk of potentially fatal complications. People who suffer a minor head injury may suffer a chronic subdural haemorrhage, which causes slow bleeding in the brain and the development of a clot. If the clot increases in size, it begins to compress the brain and restricts the flow of blood. Left untreated, it can cause brain damage. Newspapers in New Zealand have claimed Richards had suffered such a complication, although the band's management denies he suffered a haemorrhage. Surgery involves drilling tiny holes into the skull to drain the blood
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